Published by Ramsey Press on October 2019
Genres: Non-Fiction, Financial, Parenting
Buy on Amazon
Every parent wants the best for their child. That’s why they send them to college! But most parents struggle to pay for school and end up turning to student loans. That’s why the majority of graduates walk away with $35,000 in student loan debt and no clue what that debt will really cost them.
Student loan debt doesn’t open doors for young adults—it closes them. They postpone getting married and starting a family. That debt even takes away their freedom to pursue their dreams. But there is a different way. Going to college without student loans is possible!
In Debt-Free Degree, Anthony ONeal teaches parents how to get their child through school without debt, even if they haven’t saved for it. He also shows parents:
How to prepare their child for college
Which classes to take in high school
How and when to take the ACT and SAT
The right way to do college visits
How to choose a major
It took a whole recession to keep me from student loan debt. I was a middle-class kid from a small town who never really thought much about college. You go, you pay as much as you can, you pay the rest after you graduate. The system sucks but it’s the best we’ve got.
I was smart. 34 on the ACT. Was getting over half my tuition covered in scholarships. My parents were going to pay what they could. I was going to get a job and work. I had a plan. But there was still going to be debt on the other side of it.
Then the Great Recession hit. I was literally four weeks away from moving when we got the news my dad had lost his job. There went a huge chunk of my money for college. So I changed my plan. I stayed at home. I moved to the online program of the same university. Kept my job. I still took out student loan debt, but saved as much as I could. I graduated three years later and wrote a check for the student loan balance the next day.
My story isn’t normal. I made it, but just barely. I didn’t have any training or teaching on this subject—nor did my parents. Today, as a youth pastor, part of my job is to help parents and students navigate the tricky waters of college. I’ve seen student loan debt absolutely destroy many of my colleagues and peers. I’ve seen how my financial freedom has allowed me to be generous (and helped fund two adoptions!). I wanted that for my students. But, with the cost of education, I wasn’t sure how to best help them.
Now I know how. Anthony O’Neal’s Debt-Free Degree is the playbook for financially surviving your college education. Now, it’s intense—the program ideally starts in middle school—but it outlines a solid plan for minimizing and eliminating this type of killer debt. It’s a play-by-play guide of what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and what else to consider.
College finances can be overwhelming—just ask anyone who has filled out a FAFSA application. Anthony O’Neal puts everything into easy to understand instructions. You really can’t go wrong with it. The first couple of chapters lay the groundwork for why student loan debt is bad and some of the ways it can be avoided.
School choice is a big one here. O’Neal advocates using junior colleges or community colleges as a way of getting general education requirements out of the way. Later in the book, he’ll show you how to do a similar thing with AP credits, dual enrollment, or CLEP exams. (CLEP is another thing I wish I’d known more about in high school…it would have not only saved money, but spared me the boredom of simple classes. I could’ve graduated a year earlier!). Other topics in these chapters include scholarships, grants, the FAFSA, and educational savings plans like the ESA and 529s.
From here, we move to middle school. Yes, middle school. It begins here. When your child is just twelve or thirteen. Which is a bit crazy. But your child doesn’t need to know specifics. This is the time you develop a general plan and begin casting a vision for the future.
Freshman year focuses on the importance of academics, taking advantage of the National Honor Society, if possible, and creating a good social media image. In today’s environment, 18 year old scholarship-seekers will be judged by their 14 year old self’s Instagram. Yikes! There’s also a portion on extracurriculars, getting your first job, and more.
Sophomore year focuses almost exclusively on the big tests—the SAT and ACT—which might be a surprise for some of you who thought that junior year was the best time to take these tests. (Brag moment, one of my HS sophomore students just aced the ACT earlier this year.) Debt-Free Degree goes through the nuances of each test to help you determine which test to take and when.
Junior year is the big year of college planning and visits. It’s turning that middle school vision casting into a concrete plan for the near future. Anthony walks readers through setting that plan, what questions to ask on a college visit, how to get the most out of a visit, and more.
Finally, senior year: the year of applications. Apply for colleges. Apply for grants. Apply for scholarships. Apply for the FAFSA. BUT DON’T APPLY FOR LOANS!!!
Debt-Free Degree is the book I wish I’d had in high school. I managed, but so many others haven’t. Pair this with Generation Change, which is a once every other year series in my youth group, and you’ll be well on your way to setting up a new generation for a better sense of financial smarts and security.
Anthony O’Neal’s personality and humor shine through the pages of this book. This does not read like some dry and dusty how-to-do-finances book. It’s an encouraging and motivating challenge for parents and teens alike to make a plan for their future. Debt-Free Degree is a must-have investment into your child’s future.
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